Last week’s Big Sky Conference home games for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team were a tale of two different games with two entirely different beginnings, and outcomes.
The Eagles had a slow start but rallied from an early deficit in an easy 82-59 win over Northern Arizona last Thursday night at Reese Court. Saturday, Eastern had a big lead early but flailed around in futility before suffering a 60-53 crusher loss to Sacramento State (3-3, 8-6).
The result of the Eagles’ split left them with a 2-4 BSC record and 4-12 overall as they head out on the longest road trip of the season at North Dakota in Grand Forks (2-4, 5-10) tonight (Jan. 17) and Northern Colorado (1-5, 3-11) Saturday in Greeley.
They’re not in as bad a place as they could be but the Eagles lost a crucial opportunity to earn valuable postseason positioning and potential tiebreakers in the split in Big Sky standings where the middle of the pack is, and always tends to be a shoving match.
“It was the tale of two halves and they really imposed their will on us the second half,” Eastern head coach Jim Hayford said of Saturday’s game against Sac State.
After opening the game shooting over 50 percent from the field and leading 33-23 at halftime, the Eagles went stone cold, scoreless over a span of over six minutes where that lead drifted into a deficit as high as seven points, 50-43 with 4:44 to play.
Eastern was able to regain the lead 54-53 with 1 minute, 47 seconds to play on a Venky Jois layup, but down the stretch Eastern missed their last four shots and enabled Sac State to score the game’s final eight points, six coming from Joe Eberhard, whose 11 points were part of a balanced Hornets’ attack that saw Konner Veteto and Mikh McKinney each score 12.
Kevin Winford led the Eagles with 12 points while Jois and sophomore Martin Seiferth each added 10. Jois also had seven rebounds and six blocked shots.
“In basketball you have to make shots,” Hayford said. “We had some good looks, but they didn’t go in. On the other end they had good looks, and their shots went in.”
In the first half it was Eastern that had the good looks and shots that went in, while Sac State didn’t. “Overall it evened out,” Hayford said – except on the scoreboard.
Thursday night, Collin Chiverton collected a season-high 22 points while Jois recorded his seventh double-double with 14 points, 14 rebounds and four more blocked shots. Seiferth finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
“The most important thing is we got a letter and we got the letter W tonight and I’m very grateful for that,” Hayford said.
Early on it was the senior guard tandem of Jeffrey Forbes and Winford who helped shoot Eastern out of an early funk in which they trailed 10-2 and put the Eagles on track to begin a 21-3 run that put them ahead 40-22 at the break.
Forbes had 11 and Winford nine, but it was their defensive effort that prompted praise from their coach. “I thought Forbes and Winford did a very good job,” Hayford said. “Northern Arizona has a very good backcourt and I thought defensively they did just a fantastic job.”
Eastern shot an even 50 percent from the field, a season high.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.